Accepted paper:

The road that took its time: Nepal's Kosi-Lhasa Highway along the Arun River


Matthäus Rest (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)

Paper short abstract:

The road that recently arrived at the village of Num in Nepal’s Arun valley was 20 years late. I will trace its biography and how people in the area have been coping with the uncertainty connected to a road that has been as elusive as the promise of development that its announcement had implicated.

Paper long abstract:

In order to access the construction site of the Arun-3 hydropower dam in Northeast Nepal, the World Bank announced to fund the construction of a road up the Arun River in 1989. After the cancellation (1995) and reincarnation (2008) of the dam project, this road only recently arrived at the proposed dam site with more than twenty years of delay. In the meantime, however, it has changed from a mere access road for the construction of the country's most controversial infrastructure project into a major trans-Himalayan arterial road that will connect Kolkata with Lhasa once it will be completed. My paper will trace the protracted biography of this road through the Bank's reports, the memories of some of its former staff members and most importantly the narratives of people I met in the villages around the dam site. It follows Penny Harvey's call for a topology of roads that neither conceptualises them as straightforward means to accelerate connectivity nor unambiguous tools for increased state control. Instead, my conversations with people in the upper Arun valley show their complex relations with the road and the instability of infrastructural spaces. Beyond their hopes and misgivings about the new connection, their narratives shed light on the difficult relationship between the state and its citizens at the margins who know about their strategically important position between India and China but feel 'left in the middle.'

panel P54
Road biographies